Deciding to have children after adverse childhood experiences

My period was late.

It was never late.   

One day passed, two days, three…a whole week without a sighting of that familiar bleeding. Instead, a subtle sickness set up camp in my stomach.

Well, shit. I think I might be pregnant.

Eighteen months ago, for the first time in my life, I had reason to wander down the medicine aisle in Woolworths and linger at the baby section. I picked up an expensive digital pregnancy test (wondering why there were so many. Seriously how many different ways can you pee on a stick?) and held it firmly down at my side as I walked to the self-serve register. I wasn’t ready to face the possibility of becoming a mother, let alone have any number of strangers or acquaintances see me clutching that undeniably important blue box. I was in, out and straight for the nearest public toilet within minutes.


Confused, I walked home and shared the news with my husband. And yet, my period remained absent and my stomach felt…weird.

A few days later, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, nervously bouncing my leg. Despite the negative result, something wasn’t right. I was experiencing pregnancy symptoms and it was freaking me out. My husband placed his hand on my knee, telling me everything was going to be okay. But I wasn’t so sure. This wasn’t in the plan. Not yet. I still had ‘stuff’ to work through. I had a book to write, fears to face. I still wasn’t even one hundred percent sold on the idea of having children.

As sat in that cold room, I considered the possibility of parenthood. But instead of happy images of birthday parties and newborn snuggles, fears began to tumble out of me like water spilling from an overfull barrel.

What if the baby is born sick? Or disabled?

What if it’s a girl? I don’t want her to be damaged by our culture. I know what it’s like.

What if it’s a boy? How do I teach him to respect women and reject misogyny?

What if I have a miscarriage?

What if something terrible happens to them?

What if they experience trauma or abuse or pain or bullying like I did?

What if I can’t protect them from danger?

What if I am not enough?

What if I repeat my parent’s mistakes?

There were many questions and fears in my soul, but when it really came down to it – I was terrified my future child would suffer. I couldn’t deal with the idea that they might know pain like I have known, and perhaps even resent me for not protecting them. I was freaking out that I might repeat generational cycles and leave my child with some heavy baggage.

The thing that concerned me the most, was that my parents loved me. They never set out to hurt me or make me feel unloved or unheard. However, I ended up feeling very wounded by some of their behaviours and attitudes. This worried me, because if they genuinely believed they were on the right path and doing their best for me – what was to stop me from naively damaging my children, too?

These fears have lingered in my heart for many years, but in the safety of singleness, and then the safe space where my husband and I were using contraception, I had no need to really address them. I considered it a ‘future issue’. Something for ‘later’. I didn’t want to deal with it. This pregnancy scare however, brought everything into sudden and sharp focus and made me face my fears.

If you know us, or have been following along with The Grace Spot for a while, you’ll know Lukas and I have no children. My late period and seasick stomach were mysterious and random symptoms that remain unexplained. I did eventually bleed, and I sometimes wonder if God just decided it was time to shake things up and drop me headfirst into my deepest fears by giving me a phantom pregnancy. I’m grateful for it. Because truth be told, amongst the roller-coaster ride of terror – I did find hope. I found a corner of myself that wanted that blood test to be positive. I saw myself lingering at the tiny baby shoe section at K-Mart while we waited for confirmation. Amongst my fears, there was a maternal instinct. Although choked by weeds, it still began to rise to the surface within me.

This surprising hope is what pushed me to begin dealing with my anxieties surrounding motherhood. I was shocked to realise I did want to have babies – I wanted to be a parent with my beloved husband and face all those crazy challenges together. I was still frightened, but I took this opportunity to dive into healing so that one day, we could hold a little bundle of joy (and anxiety) in our arms. This is what I’ve been doing for the last eighteen months. Healing. As I’ve always said, recovery never really ends. It just goes deeper and wider. I’m not finished growing yet. The following are five ways that I’ve been dealing with my anxiety in order to get from trauma to trying.

  1. Therapy

Booking yourself in to see a psychologist or psychiatrist can be incredibly daunting. It’s an overwhelming feeling, taking charge of your mental health and facing the possibility of opening up Pandora’s Box. The deeper your trauma and pain goes, the scarier it can feel. But I cannot express enough just how powerful and important it is, not only for tackling issues of parenting and trauma, but for so many aspects of our lives and relationships.

Not only does regular therapy afford you the opportunity to verbally download all the twisted and painful thoughts, memories and experiences of your life – the validation of which can be enough to relieve a lot of tension and fear, but a therapist will be able to offer you insight, mental exercises and strategies for dealing with your pain. They offer short-term emotional relief as well as long-term strategies for staying afloat and on top. Psychiatrists may also prescribe medication which can be a literal life-saver.

I have spent a good part of this year seeing a psychologist twice a month to address the bitterness and negativity that fills my body when I consider certain memories from my childhood and adolescence, and the current state of my relationship with my family. It’s working. I am healing.

2. Grieve

My psychologist and I talk through a lot. Some of it is future, a lot is in the past. However, she often brings me right back to the present and reminds me that what I’m really doing with her, and on my own every day, is grieving.

I am grieving that my parents tried their best, and yet it wasn’t enough.

I am grieving that I never had an emotional connection with my Father, and a confusing one with my Mother.

I am grieving the complex and confusing upbringing I experienced, and the excruciating pain I experienced when I tried to pull away and make it on my own.

Grief cannot be forced or rushed. It is a difficult trudge through rocky terrain and muddy swamps. It is draining, and yet it is necessary.

My therapist shares an image with me. Using her hands, she indicates that one of them represents me, while the other represents my parents. She holds them up in front of her body, poised as if about to clap, but leaving a large gap. She motions that in a healthy relationship, both child and parents will lean in toward each other. They meet in the middle. She brings her hands together. They touch. She explains that in my case, I leaned in but rather than being met, I was left hanging. Her hands remain apart. She indicates to the large space between the hands. This space, she says, is grief.

3. Spending time with families and babies

My husband and I have two nieces and a nephew, we usually see them at least once a week. They bring an incredible amount of joy to our lives. My unease around children certainly has something to do with my resistance to believing in my capacity as a caregiver, but also from a lack of experience. I’ve never really had children in my life until recently. As with anything, it’s a bit awkward at first but over time, I have grown in my confidence to play with, care for and protect these little ones. Spending time with these adorable little people has been like having training wheels before I take off on my big girl bike.

Not only have our extended family played a significant role in healing my maternal self but developing friendships with mothers has. They have shown me that it is possible to parent in a different way to what I knew. They lead their children with gentleness, respect and emotion. They each have different perspectives and ways of doing things – which I have learned is okay! They have taught me valuable lessons, from the very practical, to philosophically and education wise. Mostly, what they have taught me is that I have permission to follow my intuition, to parent in my own way and do what is best for me and my child. It has been empowering and eye-opening.

4. Praying

I attended a prayer event at a local ministry who offer prayers specifically for breaking generational ‘curses’ and sins. To be honest with you, I’m not sure how much I believe there are spiritual curses and inherited sins in families. It seemed a little too ‘woo’ for me, but I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity, just in case there was something real there. It certainly wasn’t going to hurt me! So I went along, I said the prayers renouncing various sins, curses and spirits along with everyone else there and received private prayer. Looking back at my family history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole ‘curse’ thing was real – there seems to be an incomprehensible level of sickness, injury, mental illness and dysfunction beyond normal understanding. But then again, perhaps that’s just the cycle of poverty and lack of access to adequate social services and care playing out. Anyway, I’m not taking any chances. I want change. I came from an unhealthy family, so I’m making sure a healthy one comes from my husband and I.  

5. Take it one season at a time.

I have come to realise and must remind myself often that I cannot and should not plan out our entire life from where I stand right now. It’s impossible! And any attempts to do so (which I have been doing for years- thanks anxiety) will only cause distress.

I love to plan. But I cannot plan for a child in the way I’ve been trying to. Of course, I can plan out a nursery, a general parenting style, where and how I’d like to birth etc, but I can’t plan for the many unexpected events that will happen in our lives.

I must be willing to let go of my plans, and the picture of an idyllic childhood with zero complications or stress. I must be able to accept that I may pass on baggage to my kids, they may suffer and I may fall short. I have to be able to give my future babies the freedom to make their own choices, and experience a life that is different to mine, and different to the plans I have in my head for them.

I’ve got to take this one season at a time, rather than jumping ahead to worrying about how I will raise a teenage child. Which I am totally guilty of! From what I’ve seen, parenting done best is done day by day, season by season, learning as you go and trusting your intuition and the wisdom of safe community as you go. You simply cannot plan perfection into childhood. The anxious among us will struggle with this. But it is reality. You can’t predict the future. So stop trying. That’s what I’m working on.

You can’t predict the future. So stop trying Click To Tweet

Healing from trauma and adverse childhood experiences is no easy feat. Although this particular article seems to present the process as a linear five-step thing, please know that it’s not. Blogs such as these sharing advice and story are only compiled after the chaos, with the blessing of hindsight. It sure didn’t feel like a simple or quick process for me. I’ve spent many, many years working through my issues. But as I look back, these are just some of the things I can see that helped me move from trauma and fear, to being excited to carry, birth and raise the tiny human that is currently growing in my uterus. That’s right – in the process of writing this blog, Lukas and I found out we were pregnant! Truly, actually pregnant this time! What timing. I am thankful for the process and thankful for the privilege of carrying this baby. So much has changed in eighteen months.

*This list is personal, and it’s not exhaustive. But I do hope it encourages you to heal your childhood wounds for the sake of the next generation. And of course, you have all my love and respect if you choose not to, or cannot have children of your own and if pregnancy comes as a shock to you, before you have time to heal. In this case, know it is never too late and never more pertinent to book that therapist and start healing.

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